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Exeter

A perfect day in Exeter

Spend a day in the pretty Devon city for cobbled streets, lively pubs and ancient history

By Anna Bonet
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Exeter is small, but it’s kinda mighty. It sits on the River Exe, near the sleepy Devon countryside and pretty coastline – and it’s been there since before the Roman era. A city of juxtapositions, it’s home to both ancient and uber-modern architecture, lively students and established locals, contemporary bars and olde-worlde pubs. But it’s a bit like sweet and sour sauce in that way. It shouldn’t work, but it absolutely does.

A perfect day in Exeter

Cristina Nixau _ Shutterstock.com

First up

Check out honey-coloured Exeter Cathedral. It’s quite a stunner with the longest vaulted ceiling in England. Take a roof tour for top-notch views over the city. Heights not your thing? Visit Tea on the Green, a cosy café in the cathedral’s shadow.

Exeter quay
Exeter quay
Photograph: cwales/Shutterstock.com

Soak up the vibes

The Quay is one of the sweetest spots in Exeter, packed with indie cafés and shops. Swing by The Coffee Cellar or The Prospect Inn, before strolling along the water. On your way back into town, pop into higgledy-piggledy charity shop Book Cycle to pay what you feel for second-hand books.

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Stop for lunch

For hearty sandwiches and colourful salads try Lloyd’s Kitchen. The Plant Cafe is a delicious veggie and vegan spot with a focus on sustainability. Expect thick vegetable soups, crusty home-baked bread and plates piled high with falafel.

Max_555 / Shutterstock.com

Hit the shops

Gandy Street is a blink-and-you-miss-it alley tucked away off the high street. Get your upcycled garms from Sobeys or pop into tiny Firkins for bohemian jewellery.

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Drink like a local

Sip on Devon cider and feast on enormous pizzas late into the night at The Old Firehouse. JK Rowling studied as an undergrad at Exeter Uni and there were excitable rumours (until she denied them) that the Leaky Cauldron was based on this pub. As soon as you step inside you can see why. It’s all fairy lights, taxidermy crows, flickering candles and creaky staircases. 

Alexey Lobanov / Shutterstock.com

If you only do one thing

Make your way from the quay to Double Locks, a homely waterside pub just under two miles down the river. You can amble there on foot, or pay a visit to Saddles & Paddles before you set off and rent a bike or a kayak as your mode of transport. A world without the tube, eh?

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Hotel du Vin, Exeter
Hotel du Vin, Exeter

And if you stay the night...

Wake up at the Hotel du Vin Exeter. The thought of kipping in a former eye infirmary wouldn’t normally be appealing, but you’ll soon forget about this hotel’s optical origins. Hotel du Vin Exeter is a bit of a looker, with elegant architecture, a walled garden and boutiquey interiors. Rooms are bright and kitted out in calming colours, with big windows and views over the historic city. Seek out the main attraction: the spa – it’s hidden away at the bottom of the garden. And just across the well-maintained lawn from it, you’ll find a small inside-outside heated pool for wallowing, whatever the weather. From £65 a night.

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